Stage Fright? Here’s What to Do
Peak performance requires peak functioning, both mental and physical. To accomplish that, a little adrenaline helps. Yet most of us tend to experience adrenaline as “nerves” – a variety of symptoms beginning with edginess and going all the way up to full panic. We don’t like those sensations, and so we think of them as bad and try to minimize them.
In fact, many of us will go to extreme lengths to avoid experiencing them. A recent study (by Jeremy P. Jamieson, Matthew K. Nock, and Wendy Berry Mendes of the University of Rochester, Harvard University, and the University of California, San Francisco, respectively) found that subjects would rather administer themselves a minor electric shock than give a short speech.
That’s unfortunate. Your best response to the adrenaline caused by having to give a speech is to embrace it. Redefine those symptoms as good signs that mean that your body is ready to kick some *ss and give a great speech!
Your second-best response is to practice some relaxation techniques to take the edge off the unpleasant feelings and then go ahead and use the adrenaline to perform at your peak efficiency.
Third best is to murder your relatives. I worked with a gentleman once who did that. In fact, he kept a spreadsheet of his (apparently) deceased relatives so that he wouldn’t kill them more than once.
He was a V-P of a large company, and was called on frequently to speak to employees, shareholders, and the public. He would always accept, believing that he had to – it was part of his job. Then, when the date got close, he would announce that a relative had died and say that he had to go to the funeral. A deputy would step in and give the speech in his place.
The system worked reasonably well, until he began to run out of relatives. Then, he called me. I wish I could say that I helped him, but his speech phobia was so extreme that he couldn’t even manage to get to our sessions, so I had to give up after trying several times to schedule – and keep – a meeting.
I didn’t want any more of his relatives to die. So I recommended that he take Beta Blockers – something that apparently three-quarters of symphony orchestra performers do to help with chronic stage fright. (You’ll need a doctor’s prescription for this solution.)
If you can, embrace your adrenaline. Practice relaxation techniques to help cope with the worst of the symptoms. And if all else fails, there’s always pharma.